How much do you get paid in forensics? How much will I earn? Whats the starting salary?
These questions are very common amongst those who want to work in the computer forensics industry, and it really depends on what you do, what your skills are and who you work for and what role you have.
All salaries are going to be influenced by market forces, if there are lots of people, unqualified people, who can do your role, regardless of how smart you are, the role will not pay well.
For example, if you have a starting job in a computer forensics company, where your job is to image hard drives and run a few keyword searches that is not a highly skilled, are arguably even a skilled job. You may have been to university and got a degree but plugging in hard drives and imaging them cannot be compared to the job of an aeronautical engineer or a surgeon (who have also been to university) and the pay will reflect that.
The employer can demand a degree, not because you need one for the job, but because the market is flooded with degrees its simple market forces. Salaries in this area vary from £15K to £25K, depending on the company and location. But this is a starter job, and pay will increase with time, often the biggest jump is when you move companies.
There was a time when a second forensics job would pay as much as £45,000, for a years experience. But, as more and more people have come into the market place, the price has come down. To around £25,000 to £35,000.
But, from there onwards, it really depends on what industry you chose to go into. For example, if you move into the subcontracted police work then the market forces are very different to the giants in London. The former will have a charge their clients around £100 per hour for your time, where as a large electronic discovery company may charge over £300 per hour for your time, depending on your position. Obviously the more you can charge for your time, the better your pay will be.
If there is an army of graduates who can replace your position in just six months, the probability is that your position will not be highly paid, that is just a economic fact. As you develop a better skills and better qualifications set e.g. 5 years of investigatory experience then the salary will rise to around s £40,000 or £60,000 (from looking at the recent job postings).
Then there is the issue of promotion, the more people you manage, the more you will should earn, but this is not a linear relationship. For example, if you manage 10 staff, who are on £25,000 you will almost certainly earn less than a person who also manages 10 staff, but who each earn £60,0000.
The issue to remember is that computer forensics is a business, i.e. they need to make profit, so if you can bring money into the company i.e. through sales, you will be paid more. Some people go down the sales route, and are dedicated sales staff, others are consultants and blend sales with technical work, companies such as PWC, EY, Deloitte, etc, use the latter model, and hence their staff are highly rewarded.
With these firms as you move up the ranks you will be expected to develop your own clients, which will bring money into the firm, which in turn you will be rewarded for.
Some people in the electronic discovery market earn well over the magic £100,000, but that is not common and they will have a wide variety of experience, market knowledge and management skills with them, they will be able to grow a business, not just operate in it. You can almost guarantee that they don’t use EnCase or FTK on a regular basis, if at all. I.e. Even the best forensics investigator in the world is limited by how much he can earn, because he can only bill so much a day. It is those running, developing, and managing teams, as well as those brining in the clients that make the money.
Remember pay in the computer forensics industry is like all industries, essentially its a pyramid, with the top guys earning the most and those at the bottom earning the least, there are not many at the top, and the places are limited, but there are a lot more at the bottom.